For The Children, a Tulane Center for Public Service community outreach program, has provided academic assistance to hundreds of students in low-performing uptown New Orleans public schools since 1994.
VanDenburgh's community service was recognized by former President George W. Bush in New Orleans in January 2006. (Photo by USA Freedom Corps)
January 27, 2012
Daisy Meriwether VanDenburgh (NC ’55) never realized her community service would be recognized by the president as Air Force One landed in New Orleans in January 2006. For nearly 20 years, VanDenburgh quietly made an impact on dozens of lives through Tulane’s For The Children reading program. Earning recognition for her service and generosity not only from grateful students and teachers, but also from President George W. Bush, VanDenburgh has proven an inspiring example for the Tulane and New Orleans communities.
“You get much more than you give,” she explains. “I always thought one of the most important things a person can do is help children learn to read and, more importantly, to enjoy books. One of the pleasures in life, after all, is reading a good book.”
For The Children, a Tulane Center for Public Service community outreach program, has provided academic assistance to hundreds of students in low-performing uptown New Orleans public schools since 1994. Each school houses a reading room with a comfortable sofa and a library of books and class materials. In 2011, the program welcomed a record 413 volunteers who logged a combined average of 700 hours per week at two local schools.
VanDenburgh earned her master’s in education from Tulane in 1970 and went on to serve first as a teacher and, later, as coordinator of Newcomb Nursery School for nearly 30 years. Upon retiring in 1997, she looked for ways to continue making an impact and immediately volunteered with For The Children, working individually with the children of James Lewis, Lafayette, Sophie B. Wright and Benjamin Banneker schools.
“We are the children’s reading buddies,” she says. “You get to know them and can zero in on their interests to help them learn faster. One boy really got into the Saints and we read sports news together. Another child was interested in families, and we read ‘Little Women.’ You develop a nice relationship with the child because you can be their friend and listen to what they have to say.”
As the years passed, VanDenburgh grew ever more enthusiastic about the program, recruiting several of her friends to the cause and pledging generous yearly gifts to support its continued success.
"I believe in what we’re doing," she says. "I can see how it works."
One day, in 2006, after word of her devotion and eagerness to serve her community spread, she received a special surprise.
"I was coming back from Houston and got a call that I was in the running for the president’s volunteer service award. ‘What president? What are you talking about?’ I asked. It was so exciting! I certainly didn’t expect that when I first began with the program."
VanDenburgh received the award directly from President Bush, who personally thanked her for making a difference in so many children’s lives, in a ceremony at Louis Armstrong International Airport.
After reflecting on her service, however, VanDenburgh noted that she has received other rewards just as, if not more, special.
"I guess the president’s award was the nicest, but one of the teachers made me a certificate of appreciation and framed it for me. It made me feel really good. Also, one of the children who had been my reading buddy in second grade graduated this year from Loyola. He let me know, and I was very proud."
In the end, VanDenburgh says she is no different from any other volunteer participating in the Center for Public Service's numerous outreach programs.
"I don’t want to make it too big a deal. I’ve seen so many people who have done so much more. I feel there are so many who have been wonderful volunteers. I am just in the right place at the right time with the right program."
Michael Ramos is a senior writer in the Office of Development.
Office of Development, P.O. Box 61075, New Orleans, LA 70161-9986 | 504-865-5794 | 888-265-7576 | firstname.lastname@example.org